Thursday, 31 October 2019

DANCE REVIEW: Rambert: Triple Bill - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Rambert is England’s oldest established dance company and its first classical ballet company, having been founded in London at the start of the 20th century by Dame Marie Rambert. Today it is synonymous with the very best in contemporary dance with a company of what must surely be the best contemporary dancers from all over the world.

Tonight’s triple bill featured three very different dance pieces from the 21st century. The first, PreSentient, was choreographed by Wayne McGregor in 2002. This piece opened with a mesmerising solo by Kym Sojourna who formed her body into impossible shapes and twists. This piece started in almost darkness, with barely the silhouette of Sojourna visible until very gradually the lights came on to an intense wash. A screen behind Sojourna started to rise and eleven other dancers, standing still, were gradually revealed – first their bare feet, then their knees until all were present. This piece saw all dancers wear the same shade of lilac clothing – different necklines were worn by male and female dancers and while there was a clear gender differentiation through the costumes, there was a uniformity which suited this piece very well. Different dance styles were shown in this piece, which seemed to represent different emotional aspects. McGregor states that this dance contains “a violent physicality that battles with claustrophobic choreographic structures to create a sense of unresolved, restless apprehension.” Tension was certainly a constant theme. A rather ingenious touch was a postmodern use of functional ballet – some sections saw a slightly more flowing, traditional ballet style taking place in which various pairs or trios of dancers would hold a limb for balance or lift each other. The functionality of a second or third person being used as a support was clear - you can’t do a lift on your own, but he cleverly twisted this into a controlling mechanism when those holding or lifting were trying to prevent the other dancer from getting away. This was a fantastic illusion which was repeated again and again, building a sense of claustrophobia and a need to escape. The ensemble worked mostly in small groupings, with some further solo dances breaking up the ensemble work. Of the three pieces performed tonight, this one struck me the most – the faces of the ensemble were purposefully blank throughout except for one glance over the shoulder to the audience, yet such energy and strong emotion was conveyed. This piece was relentless to the point that it beggared belief that anyone could remember so many complex steps with constant change without any noticeable repetition. McGregor is an inspired choreographer and each and every dancer was simply astounding – I instantly wanted to watch this again to glean more nuances in the work. The music for this dance was taken from Steve Reich and was a pre-recorded tape. Reich’s trademark constant hammering of chords was an apt soundtrack for this piece and a quieter section made a welcome contrast.

After a short break, the second performance of the evening took place. Rouge, which premiered earlier this year, was created by Marion Motin. Motin is known for her work in the music video industry having worked with Madonna, Christine and the Queens and Dua Lipa. This was evident in the second half of the composition.

Rouge opened rather intriguingly with a Mad-Max-esque character on the side of a very smoky stage with electric guitar and amplifier. Guitarist Ruben Martinez improvised scorching melodies on stage over a recorded track. As he moved forward, the smoke moved with him. From this mist, an ensemble of 7 suddenly stood up as if from nowhere. This snappy movement from horizontal to vertical was very slick and then immediately, and rather impressively the ensemble fell to their vertical positions again. From this opening movement, individual dancers would again rise, linger and fall as if rooted to the spot, and as one fell another rose again and again. This opening section was of high impact and showed yet again the immense, almost unearthly talent of the dancers. Each dancer wore strong colours and individualism was seen through the interesting clothes they wore – one appeared to be in a bath robe with a towel around their head. As the piece progressed, the dancers stripped off an outer layer and revealed themselves to be wearing various types of sporting gear – boxing shorts, wrestling shorts, kick boxing outfits all were bright and showed off athletic bodies. This piece contained a lot of unison elements and there were some narrative elements. Molin states that this piece is about finding ourselves, our instinct and nature, and connecting with real bodies and real people. I immediately saw a strong portrayal of youth with the curiosity, confidence, naivety and exploration that is common with university age adults. Couples were formed and intimacy shared, then they split and coupled with someone new – jealousy and heartbreak were clear. At one point, the dancers all became aware of the musician on stage and collectively stared at him. The musician whispers in the ear of the closest dancer and the music and dance changed. I rather amusingly wrote in my notes that at this point the dancers started dancing – of course they were dancing from the very start, but if the dance up until this point was abstract and representational of narrative, emotion and characterisation, after this point the dance was as if the people on stage had walked in to a night club. The style became much more hip-hop, in a stylised way. I thought that this dance within a dance was genius. The piece arched its way back to the beginning with the falling motif briefly taking place towards an abrupt end.

Another break brought us to the final piece of the evening, In Your Rooms, which was choreographed in 2007 by Hofesh Shechter OBE who also composed the music. Shechter has an impressive CV having choreographed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the Batsheva Ensemble, Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet company among others. In Your Rooms started with a voice over espousing philosophical ponderings about chaos, order and tension. Although of the three pieces tonight, this was the most programmatic with the use of text and clear narrative moments, it also felt quite abstract. I got lost in watching it, but this is not a negative point – the scenes almost merged with subliminal thought, dipping into the subconscious. This piece was performed with a live string quartet and percussionist who rather hauntingly appeared to be floating in the top right hand corner of the stage back drop. I had spotted this small band in the pit before the show started but now it really looked as if they were on a platform high up – not so, they were somehow projected there in an extremely realistic way. This piece rolled and flowed with a defining moment when in unison the ensemble, grouped together, punched the air repeatedly. This was quite impressive as many times throughout this piece the dancer’s faces were not visible and sometimes were clearly hidden. In this air-punching moment, expressive faces were clear and decisive.

Rambert presented a very impressive triple bill tonight. The same group of dancers performed all three pieces which, to me, seemed an impossible task given the complexity and extreme physicality of the movements required as well as the immense recall needed. Not only was every step without falter – the quality of dancing was simply phenomenal.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 30/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Reasons To Stay Alive - HOME. Manchester.

This evening HOME Theatre, Manchester, played host to Matt Haig’s 2015 memoir ‘Reasons To Stay Alive'. The performance explored the themes of depression, anxiety and time; specifically focusing on the torment of time and the manipulation of each disorder as it consumes a person. Throughout the performance I was taken through waves of sound, motion and memory. Each scene had been carefully thought out, the music chosen to intertwine with the slowed movements of the character whilst also juxtaposing the fast pace of the action on stage.

Mike Noble played the main protagonist ‘Matt’, at first I found the character hard to warm to, I found his portrayal rough yet heightened and in comparison to the other characters I struggled to care for him. However, by the end of the play I had found my opinion had changed quite significantly towards the character. As younger Matt’s complexities developed I found myself empathising with his worries. I silently defended him when everything became overwhelming and I found myself celebrating his triumphs when he was able to stay home or buy marmite. As an audience member I was able to see each complex layer to younger Matt’s character and this was wonderfully portrayed by Noble, my favourite scene from Noble’s performance was Haigh’s panic attack, the use of space on stage and the slow motion of his actions gripped me by my chest and kept my attention throughout.

Older ‘Matt’, Phil Cheadle, had a place in my heart from the start of the performance. I found his older persona to be quite calming, he had a subconscious-like feel to his performance, always watching and advising younger Matt with the knowledge and wisdom he’d acquired. As the performance continued I enjoyed Cheadle’s composure and resilience which allowed for the shocking twist nearer the end of the play. My heart felt like it had been ripped out when Older Matt’s character was metaphorically pinned to the brain-like background, emotions I hadn’t realised I felt for the character were beautifully controlled by Cheadle’s performance.

Alongside Noble, Janet Etuk played the loving and supportive spouse, Andrea, a supporting and wonderful character who showed the importance of never giving up on your partner whilst also showing them the firmness and love they need when battling a disorder like depression. Etuk’s soft touch and whitty remarks reminded the audience of the compassion needed when combating each problem face on. Connie Walker also showed the audience the compassion and love needed but from a mothers perspective. By far my favourite actor on stage, Walker’s diverse role-playing allowed each of her characters to shine on stage whilst supporting, criticising and at times tormenting the protagonist throughout.

Hand in hand, Chris Donnelly played the caring second half of this parenting cohort. His confused and anxious mannerisms allowed each moment the audience saw him, on stage as Matt’s father, to represent the battle and struggle that a parent might feel when faced with a child with depression. Finally making up this company of six, Dilek Rose wonderfully portrayed each character with humour and ease, filling in the gaps of Matt’s life she was able to add depth to each of her characters whilst only inhabiting them for mere moments on stage. The Demon being a favourite character of mine, representing the scarily beautiful fragmentations of our mind.

Special mention must go to lighting designer Jessica Hung Han Yun, each part of the performance was beautifully lit to juxtapose or complement each lighting stage. The shadowing from the books on stage and yellow tones showed the intricacies of the set and the metaphor that is the brain.

All in all, Jonathan Watkins did a fantastic job at representing Matt Haig’s Memoire onstage, his abstract movements contrasted the slow pressures of Haig's panicked state whilst also adding humour and '90’s pop references throughout. Very good performance from all involved.

Reviewer - Caroline Bleakley
on - 30/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Seagulls - The Library Theatre, Bolton

This is the world premiere of a modern-day musical, with just four performers, based on Anton Chekhov’s classic play “The Seagull”. Beth Hyland, writer of both the music and lyrics, shook the original story out of its Russian corsets and into the tale of a 21st century university rock band in Bolton. Music gig met pocket-sized musical in a noisy, poignant and comedic display in the Bolton Library Theatre, produced by the Bolton Octagon.

'Seagulls' was the often-disputed name of the band, and the characters were second year students of the University of Bolton. Frontman was Con (the Konstantin character), who wanted to be a very serious indie rock musician, but not because he has a mother who is a famous pop star (the Irina character – sadly we never met her). Matthew Heywood was a joy in this role: edged up with pretension, bossing everybody in sight from behind his guitar, and lamenting the cheerful folksy tunes that their student union audiences preferred: “It’s got handclapping in it!” A disastrous and painfully hilarious scene occurred when he finally rebelled against the need to be entertaining, hurriedly handed the other Seagulls the lyrics to a new and radically different song, and began wailing in angst down the microphone while playing discordant chords on a keyboard with his bare feet. Anybody who has ever been near up-and-coming musicians has met a Con.

The emotional heart of the production was driven by Con’s girlfriend Nina, performed by the multi-talented Flora Spencer-Longhurst: she had a lovely touch on the violin, a beautiful singing voice, and her acting performance was of warmth, humour, innocence and vulnerability. After losing patience with Con, she took up the offer to go on tour with the famous rock star Trigorin – who she had happened to have met, as he was the boyfriend of Con’s equally famous mother. Repackaged as just “Nina”, in white furry coat and pink sequins, she was initially overjoyed at her fortune…. And gradually got harder, and less innocent, and finally, in a performance in an arena to a synth pop soundtrack, she was indistinguishable from the production line of female pop singers seen every day on MTV. Her revelation song of what had really happened on the tour was the musical equivalent of the famous “I am a seagull” speech, and Spencer-Longhurst held the audience in the palm of her hand throughout it.

Frequently caught up in these band tensions without really wanting to be were keyboardist and guitarist Masha, and bass player Simon (the Semyon character.) Lauryn Redding was earthy and solid as Masha, usually holding onto her coolness from behind the keyboard (“I want to be a hot widow” when asked why she wore black all the time), and just keeping things grounded. Tomi Ogbaro as Simon fluttered around her shyly in courtship (“We can get a sofa from Ikea!”), and did his best to protect Con from drinking himself to death before graduation.

Katie Scott’s design turned the entire Bolton Library Theatre into a gig venue, right down to audience members getting their hands stamped with “SEAGULLS” as they entered the space. Grungy, student union-type posters were on the walls and pillars, and fairy lights were strung above the audience’s heads. Lotte Wakeham’s stage direction was pacey and energetic, and combined with James Frewer’s sharply precise yet evocative musical direction, it was very easy to forget where we really were, and be transported to vibrant and much larger concert stages. During the curtain call, the actors gave the audience permission to turn back on their phones and devices so Seagulls could be filmed performing their encore song, and a sea of little blue screens was held up to capture the lights, sound and booming musical energy of the Bolton Octagon’s borrowed stage.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 30/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Exam - The King's Arms, Salford

Eight unnamed candidates have 80 minutes to answer a question so they can secure a job with a prestigious and mysterious corporation. But before they can do that, they must ask, ‘what is the question’? And how do they find it without breaking the strict rules set by the invigilator (played by Steve Connolly).

Best described as a modern thriller with elements of Pinter's 'The Dumb Waiter'. 'The Apprentice' meets 'Reservoir Dogs' in this 90 minute one act play, (although time seemed to fly whilst watching, even in spite of the giant clock counting down from upstage) in which all of the candidates must work together in an "escape room" style setting. But can you really trust strangers, especially when they want the same thing as you? Upon entering the space, I was informed to be aware of tucking my legs in as the play would ‘get very violent very quickly'. I was not disappointed following that statement.

This Vertigo Theatre Production gave the performers nowhere to hide, set in only one, small room. Coupled with a great script from Stuart Hazeldine and superb direction from Craig Hepworth, the performers acted as a kind of ensemble in which every single actor gave a memorable and believable performance. Hepworth must be commended, as it is no easy feat to direct the ensuing chaos so seamlessly. The characters of all eight candidates were well thought out and explored deeply. John Mackie, playing Candidate 2 and Haydn Holden, playing Candidate 7, gave really brave and harrowing performances. Their confident and cocky attitudes really gave the production momentum and depth. However, all performances were so captivating that it only seems fair to mention the other actors; Gavin Stamper, Nicola Fisher, Rebecca-Claire Evans, Celine Constantinides, Andrew Marsden, Connor McKinney, above mentioned Steve Connolly, and a cameo from the director himself, Craig Hepworth. It is rare to see a production in which there such is a high calibre for every performer.

This production would have been a success with only the above-mentioned team. However, this play was also visually a masterpiece. The white walls encasing the performers, along with the bright white tube lights, gave the impression of a sort of clinical prison. The regimented and precise set-up of the tables and chairs as though an exam were to take place created intrigue from the opening. The audience can then see this regimentation quickly fall away as the tables and chairs are flung around, stood on and discarded. Their miniature society crumbles. Karl Burge and Craig Hepworth used lighting and sound successfully to further add to the production.

This is clearly a very special and brave production that I have no doubt will go far. I will certainly be thinking about this piece in the days to come. It is no surprise, then, that Exam will be moving to Off West End in 2020.

Reviewer - Megan Relph
on - 30/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: The KIng And I - The Grand Theatre, Leeds.

1-2-3 And..

'The King and I' is one of the first musical films I can remember watching, featuring the wonderful Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, from 1956, and is a fictional (so I am lead to believe) story, about the King of Siam (now known as Thailand), and a widowed Welsh schoolteacher, Anna Leonowens, who arrives in Bangkok with her son after being summoned to tutor the royal children.

Accompanied by a glorious score by Richard Rogers, and Oscar Hammerstein II, it is a bundle of 19th century joy, taking a 21st century audience back to 20th century Broadway.

I usually end up writing endless superlatives in my reviews, but I fear I would run out, and end up using the same ones time and time again, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.. but as this show was one of the most impressive and elegant shows I’ve seen, I don’t think they wouldn’t be enough. I really enjoyed how each scene was fitting the period, and the grandeur of the palace setting, with great use of space. There was also a ship! Which sailed on to the stage as a wonderful spectacle, similar to the helicopter in Miss Saigon. Kudos to set designer Micheal Yeargan. Adding to the settings, were the costumes, which thanks to Yvonne Milnes, were stylish, yet relevant to the period.

Possibly my favourite moment of the show was the Inception style scene where we were watching actors on stage, who were watching dancers perform a theatre show, for the ‘Small House Of Uncle Thomas’ routine. This was a very difficult and technical 10-minute section of the show, which was executed to great effect. There was a lot of people running on and off the stage, with many props, many lighting cues, and a really challenging score, underneath what looked to be a physically challenging routine, but I am happy to tell you that it all worked beautifully and it was executed to the highest standard. All the plaudits should go to chorgeographer Christopher Gattelli, not only for this scene, but for the whole production’s dance routines.

The show's running time was 2h55, which normally I would say is too much, but it really didn’t feel that way, and when I checked my phone on the way back to my car, I was actually surprised to see that it was 22:30, as it had not felt all that long while watching. The music of the show had not been updated to work with a small ensemble of pianos, and there was a live string section, brass, wind and percussion, for once, it was a small orchestra, rather than a wealth of pianos and some guitars. Also keeping the whole of the score, I’ve been either involved in, or have watched many shows where directors have cut the overture, or the entr’acte in the second half, the exit music and often the bows, I was glad that the orchestra were allowed to perform these. And led by Musical Director, and Conductor, Malcolm Forbes- Peckham, they did a marvellous job.

“Never work with animals or children” that famous quote by William Fields, referring to child actors in a film setting inferring that they would steal the scene, well today was no different, but luckily they were used in a way that they were able to have their little moment in each scene, then they were either sat on the floor, or bent over bowing. The children in this production were of all ages, from very young to teens, and they all worked together very well, but the praise for the show's massive success must go to our King, Jose Llana and Mrs Anna, Annalene Beechey. Both seemed perfect for their roles, having played them with such class, and having both played the roles numerous times before. They were a wonderful casting. Sharing in a really great on-stage chemistry, and sharing in wonderful comedic moments, all the way to the King's untimely death (spoiler..). Llana must be the most inventive actor I’ve seen on stage when it comes to facial expressions, as he had an endless supply of them, each setting the tone for the scene, or handing us a little titter here and there.

Thanks to Director, Bartlett Sher, for keeping the show as it should be, and for not modernising it, as so many things seem to be these days. The show in its original format is a breathe of fresh air in today's theatre line-ups as any new show that comes out seems to be a juke-box show or a Disney production. This was noted on my way out of the theatre, with the advertising of We Will Rock You, On Your Feet, and Sister Act!

What a wonderful evening of theatre. Thanks.

Reviewer - Simon Oliver

on - 30/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Dorian - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

This is one of the best performances I’ve seen in a while, presented by Proper Job Theatre Company. Writer, Andrew McMillan has pulled out the themes of image fixation and beauty before personality from “A Picture Of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde, and adjusted the context where the play takes place in a modern gym.

“Dorian” told the story of a father and son, their relationship was breaking down. Why? Well it’s a sadly common reason, conversations were taking place while they were both on their phones and on social media. Furthermore, the suffocating notions of not feeling good enough and inadequacy clouded their perceptions of outer reality: they were both suffering. Dorian, the father, was having a mid-life crisis and wanted to become fit, bulky and desirable. It wouldn’t have been a problem if he was doing it for himself and his health. However, this was an unhealthy obsession for other people’s approval; chasing an unrealistic goal. On the opposite end of the scale Sam, the son, was becoming too thin and appeared to be suffering with bulimia. Consequently, all of their relationships were impacted.

There was effective pre-performance work as Harry, the personal trainer, gave us a coupon for 10% off his gym membership scheme. It exposed how certain companies and people wish to profit from other people thinking they aren’t good enough. Exploiting their vulnerabilities. For example it’s when someone says: “I must buy these clothes because other people will think I’ll look amazing” or “I have to go to the gym so I can look and feel sexy for others”. It’s a tragic desire to feel loved by others because they don’t love who they are now.

The play’s definition of manipulation was explored in great detail. How we manipulate others, for example through YouTube Videos. Sarah talked to her YouTube audience as though they were her friends gossiping over drinking lattes. She acts as though she’s going to reveal a closely guarded make-up secret which actually turns out to be made up. Very superficial. How we manipulate ourselves, becoming destructively fixated on a goal and you’ll never be happy unless you achieve it. Image manipulation, photo-shopping images of models so they meet society’s beauty standards. But Sarah’s job title was not “Photo-shopper” it was “Image Optimisation Expert”. Two of my favourite lines in the play were: “When we stop posting online do we stop existing?” and “Some people don’t want to change because when they have done it's mission accomplished. Boring.”

There were a plethora of concepts and ideas analysed in the writing, it was multifaceted and incredibly relevant. Presenting a scenario which is psychologically and physically damaging to the central characters. At one point it was actually encouraging that the audience didn’t join in with “Hench With Harry’s Workout”. Dorian’s tragic transformation was scary, he went from being a tender father with an aura of innocence to a hard-hearted bully. He did not want to be as weak as his son, reflecting the stigma which still exists surrounding mental health. The intermittent music was both sweet and sinister, carrying a clear feeling of poignancy. It was gorgeously sung and played.

“Dorian” was cleverly designed, half looking like it was set in 1891 with the window/mirror frames and statues and the rest of it taking place in 2019. Basically, it proved that the classics are still pertinent to present society. It was authentically acted with varied vocal work. The quote on the show’s leaflet was written by Wilde saying: “Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.” The play was an embodiment of this sentence. Intelligent and beautifully tragic.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 30/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Blood Runs Deep - The Epstein Theatre, Liverpool

Produced by Break A Leg Productions, 'Blood Runs Deep' is a high standard as there were notable high production values in the show. A lot of expense was put into the set as it looked extremely good and contained several props. Their array of production skills were shone throughout the production of the show.

'Blood Runs Deep' was directed by Margaret Connell, who has done an incredible job bringing this new psychological thriller to life on the stage. Her direction was tight and controlled, but extremely focused. Her dedication and hard workwere clearly evident, whilst watching the show. I really like the way she incorporated all the classic elements of horror such as suspense, edginess and tension into the play.

Emma Culshaw and David Paul, as well as co-producing, also wrote this new psychological thriller. The writing felt genuine and dialogue was very good. I like how the story kept moving swiftly along, but also giving the audience a little piece of the story, so we could attempt to solve the deep, dark family secret, whilst watching the show. There were loads of scary moments in the play, through dialogue and the pauses. The silence worked incredibly well as it kept the audience on the edge on their seats and enhanced the tension between the characters.

The cast of characters included Karen (Emma Vaudrey), Jake (Brandon McCaffery), Greg (Anthony Costa) and Zoe (Alice Merivale). It was nice to see Anthony Costa perform in the play as I haven’t seen him since his days in the boy band, Blue and tv shows, Casualty, Holby City and I’m A Celebrity....Get Me Out of Here. The cast was very small, but this kept the show tighter and more focused on the characters and story. With having such a small cast, the characters could be fully developed and the narractive of the story told fully.

The running theme of 'Blood Runs Deep' was relationships and demonstrated the strain of keeping a deep, dark secret from their loved ones. Plus, this displayed the consequences of what would happen, if the family secret was ever discovered. I particularly liked the concept of having a family at the forefront of the show as most relatives will do anything to protect their loved ones. Blood Runs Deep was a psychological thriller with so many levels of horror incorporated into the play.

The play was set in a house around Halloween in the 1990s, single mother, Karen was on the run with her unsuspecting son, Jake. She was concealing a deep, dark chilling, family secret and was attempting to lead a normal life. At the beginning of the show, Karen was extremely nervous and on the edge, as she was hearing noises and getting nuisance phone calls. She starts thinking that maybe someone knows her secret and was panicking about being discovered. When an unwelcome visitor, Greg, arrived at her home, her suspicions were confirmed, which had devastating consequences for her and Jake.

Jake was in a relationship with his girlfriend, Zoe. Their relationship was quite hostile at times. Karen was overjoyed her son was moving on with his life with Zoe and going to college to study. The chemistry and dynamics between Greg & Karen and Jake & Zoe were very strong and shown incredibly well on the stage. Their relationships became volatile as the story progressed. Additionally, the family secret was putting a strain on the relationships and when it was discovered, this caused a massive amount of tension and discomfort for the characters.

The set design by Laura Murphy was excellent. She has done a brilliant job incorporating a kitchen, a living room and dining room into the layout of the house. I particularly liked there were different areas for the characters to interact with each other. The set fitted into the 1990’s era with the furniture and props such as the VHS tapes. The costumes by Stephanie Stewart and Marina Diamantidi were good and fit into the 1990’s period.

Pete Michelson was the Lighting Designer for Blood Runs Deep and what a great job he did. The contrasts between the lightness and darkness created a mood of tension between the characters and heightened Karen’s suspicions. Even when the set was dark for a particular scene, the audience could see what was going on. Peder B. Helland supplied the music for the show, which fitted so well into the genre of the play. The lighting and music really heightened the tension and enhanced the narractive so much.

The acting was of a very good standard. However, for me personally, Emma Vaudrey’s performance stood out as her portrayal of this damaged and mentally scared character was mesmerising to see. The actors injected pathos into their roles, where the emotions were clearly demonstrated in their performances, through the dialogue and mannerisms of the characters. There was a great deal of friction and conflict, which increased as the family secret was slowly unravelling which intensified as the natractive of the story developed. The pace of the play was very good as each scene added more intrigue and mystery surrounding the story.

On a final note, I really enjoyed seeing Blood Runs Deep and would highly recommend you go and see this new psychological thriller. It had everything you want in a psychological thriller such as love, hate, suspense, tension and horror. Blood Runs Deep kept the audience on the edge of their seats and I really liked the way you could never predict where the direction of the story was going next.

Reviewer - Mark Cooper
on - 30/10/19

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Hamlet - The Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham.

Having visited the Mary Wallace Theatre twice before, I find myself wanting to write about the venue each time. The theatre is just a short walk from the banks of the Thames and the building has more character than you might expect from a local venue. The residents of Twickenham come out in force whenever they have performances and tonight there was also a party of local students in attendance which was great to see. The building itself is full of character and history and the staff are so welcoming to all who visit.

This was the first time I had seen a Shakespeare production at The Mary Wallace, despite the fact that it is the home of the Richmond Shakespeare Society (RSS). It is perhaps one of the most recognisable works thanks to many high profile actors being shown holding the skull and quoting the line “Alas poor Yorick” – sadly this is often misremembered as Hamlet does not follow this with “I knew him well”.

We live in a time where gender roles are being constantly challenged and whilst this is not the first time I have seen Hamlet played as Lady Hamlet (Francesca Ellis), it was refreshing that the RSS were prepared to push this boundary. It changes the presentation of the play without distracting you from what is an exhilarating plot – I might go as far as saying it feels more natural to see Hamlet as a female role.

Whilst I suspect that the vast majority of people reading this review will not need to be reminded of the plot, it is worth noting a few points – not least that the RSS production takes place in modern day Denmark. King Hamlet has just died and his only child, has been replaced by the King’s younger brother Claudius (Chris Mounsey) who immediately marries Gertrude (Jane Marcus) – the widow of the old King. The King and Queen’s advisor, Polonia (Susan Reoch) has a son Orpheus (Jamie Barker) who wishes to be romantically involved with Hamlet and a daughter Laerta (Nicola Doble) who departs early in the play to school in France – to return later when she finds out of her mother’s death.

It was very refreshing to see some use of technology in this production, the King’s ghost (Francis Abbott) being projected onto a platform as a hologram during some of the early scenes. Where speaking parts were required then Abbott played these in person, dressed in the same orange boiler suit as was used in the hologram, but with his voice manipulated to emphasise that this was a ghost figure.

There are many things to enjoy about this production of Hamlet and having seen the play many times over several years, I have to confess that I cannot remember a better performance of Hamlet than was played this evening by Francesca Ellis. It was powerful, believable, and passionate and without doubt very true to the original character that Shakespeare created. It is hard to imagine how Ellis could improve her performance – despite this being such a well-known plot it was hard to ignore the gasps and intakes of breath that you could hear throughout the audience during the most dramatic moments.

If I had any expectations of the RSS productions at The Mary Wallace Theatre then they were exceeded here. I have singled out Ellis, and quite rightly, but in truth the performances of many of the cast were superb. Nicola Doble as Laerta, Emily O’Mahony as Horatio, Jamie Barker as Orpheus all deserve high praise. If you haven’t seen an RSS production at the Mary Wallace Theatre then I would thoroughly recommend a visit – you will not be disappointed.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 29/10/19

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: The Unthanks - HOME, Manchester

The Unthanks must surely be the gold standard of contemporary folk and so the band’s stunning and somewhat esoteric new project still sees Manchester’s HOME’s packed to the rafters with a sense of expectation in the air to experience what is mostly unheard work. Three cycles of songs written from real historical women’s perspectives have been released and tonight’s – Volume Three - sees ten of Emily Brontë’s poems performed. (The other two cycles being from female First World War writers and Hull fishing worker Lillian Bilocca). The Unthanks chose the poems that held the most meaning for them and were commissioned by the Brontë Society to produce the songs to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Emily’ birth.

Only one of Brontë s poems was published in her lifetime (Remembrance) and the project creates a unique opportunity for those new to her work to experience it in a contemporary, accessible way. The performance re-vivified these largely neglected works and added new depth and poignancy to the words: I wanted to go away immediately afterwards and find the poetry collection. A stripped down set - just Becky and Rachel on vocals and composer/arranger Adrian McNally on piano - forced the words to take centre stage.

You can see the appeal & connection of The Unthanks for the Brontës; famous sisters with gloomy, often Gothic, melancholy preoccupations, and Emily’s fragility, dark emotion and obsession with the wild moorland landscape is evident in titles such as 'The Night Is Darkening Around Me' and 'Deep Deep Down In The Silent Grave'.

What is breathtaking about these songs is how the musical arrangement both makes these songs soar and gives them emotional gravitas. Dressed in grey at his Steinway & flanked by the scarlet attired sisters who are normally the focus of the performances, McNally comes into his own. His arrangements are delicate, atmospheric and tear-inducing, gently giving the poetry space to breathe - and the songs were composed by McNally on Emily’s actual piano in the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth. Immediately arresting and beautiful, the layers of words and the hypnotic repetitive chords, notes and harmonies create an instant emotional resonance. My face was wet with tears by about the fourth song. (The woman sitting next to me looked concerned).

There’s a purity and urgency to these songs; they feel essential & seem to connect directly with the soul. We get Emily, full force. These are songs to savour, to give your full attention to and to resolutely love. And The Unthanks, thankfully, just can’t seem to put a foot wrong.

Reviewer - Tracy Ryan
on - 19/10/19

BALLET REVIEW: Dracula - The Playhouse, Leeds.

Halloween is a very fitting time to be watching dancing vampires in tights, and the Gothic pleasure was all mine at this evening’s performance of “Dracula”, presented at Leeds Playhouse by Northern Ballet.

Staying quite faithful to the famous novel by Bram Stoker throughout, the production opened in a dark and twisted castle in Transylvania. Riku Ito was the Old Dracula, a ravaged Nosferatu-like figure who could barely contain his blood lust around fresh-faced young English lawyer Jonathan Harker, spritely danced by Lorenzo Trossello. Three female vampires, the violently sensuous trio of Rachael Gillespie, Sarah Chun and Minju Kang, showed just how wonderful ballet is at conveying the effect of almost floating on air, while also entangling Jonathan between their limbs and close to their fangs.

Old Dracula got to Harker’s jugular vein first though, leading to a rapid rejuvenation into a young, suave, more Bela Lugosi-style Count Dracula, danced with a great deal of black cape-swirling by Javier Torres. Having seen a picture of Jonathan’s winsome fiancée Mina, he packed himself into a shipping crate and voyaged to England to find her.
Romantic ballet is descended from the nineteenth century’s craze for putting the supernatural on stage, and steps originally used to convey Sylphides and Wilis look incredible when reworked to dark effect for our modern love of vampires. For the two lead ballerinas, Abigail Prudames as Mina, and Antoinette Brooks-Daw as her spoiled and pretty friend Lucy, it gave an arc and a range that was quite extensive.

Brooks-Daw’s Lucy initially was the ultimate in Victorian frilliness as she received her two suitors: a rather dull Dr Seward, danced mournfully by Joseph Taylor, and the more stylish and dapper Arthur Holmwood, danced with great pizazz by Matthew Koon. When she was sleepwalking in a graveyard in a red evening gown (as you do), and the mist was rolling across the stage, and Dracula shimmied into view behind her…… then came a pas de deux that was so elegantly sensual, with Brooks-Daw flowing around Torres’ body like a stream of blood herself, that it was transcendent. At her highly proper engagement party, she went from lively and wanton to wild and bestial. When she crawled out of her coffin as a fully transformed vampire, she added in the alien and insect-like quality that Torres utilised in his own performance sometimes. It was an incredible role for a dazzling performer, and such a shame that Lucy got staked and taken out of the story just after the interval.

But….. it was topped by Prudames’ Mina! For the first act she danced the role with demure sweetness… and then after Lucy’s (second) death came her own pas de deux with Dracula, when he vaporised into her bedroom late at night. There was a deep psychological underlay to this sequence, which was played out like a male succubus myth, and Prudames’ performance was of the most fragile-looking strength. Initially she was telling off her unwanted suitor, even beating at his chest with delicate fists, and when she finally gave in and offered her throat, it seemed to be with the deepest sympathy and sorrow for him.

That was memorable enough, but then, all dressed in ethereal green, she had a turn of her own as a powerful lady vampire, and the stage was flooded with a radiant and electrical energy that was completely different to what any of the other vampire characters had been doing. Again, it was such a shame that the heroes turned up to save the day and cut it all short. Damn that vampire expert Van Helsing, danced with much determined cross-waving by Ashley Dixon, and his meddling ways!

Special mention of Kevin Poeung as Renfield, the patient in the lunatic asylum. His unnatural writhing was matched by a very realistic and believable diet of mimed and wriggly live insects.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 29/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: The Escape Act: A Holocaust Memoir - The Lowry Theatre, Salford

'The Escape Act: A Holocaust Memoir' is a remarkable piece of theatre on several levels. It is, first and foremost, a true and unusual story from what must surely be the most harrowing period of history in modern times. Secondly, it is a highly creative blend of several mediums including puppetry, trapeze, animation and multi-media all within the context of a one woman show. It's also a very absorbing show, holding the audience from start to finish with writer/performer Stav Meishar presenting a highly personalised story.

Irene Danner was a Jewish acrobat who survived the Holocaust hiding from the Nazis at a German circus and 'The Escape Act' alternates back and forth between both past and present and the characters and performer. Stav Meishar is herself the grandchild of Holocaust survivors and through extensive personal research discovered more information about Irene Danner’s family than she actually knows about much of her own ancestry. With this very personal link to the subject of the play, Meishar’s performance went far beyond the usual connections of actor to character, giving the show a very special resonance and also relevance for today.

The story examines Irene’s life between 1933 and 1945, from her teenage years through to falling in love and starting her own family, covering at the same time, the entire life of the Third Reich, from the year Hitler came to power until his suicide and the Allied victory. The threat of the Nazi’s is a constant backdrop to Irene’s story, with inevitably some tragedy along the way. The ‘family’ that was the Althoff Circus is examined in detail, shown to have been its own transient community surviving across Europe against the ravages of the war.

The presentation is remarkable both in its variety and versatility, ranging from a miniature Big-Top, just large enough for an actor to enter, a large back screen (which included archive footage of circus performers in Germany) and a trapeze from which Stav Meishar impressively continued to act whilst performing a wide range of acrobatic tricks. The puppets varied in size from 12” cut-outs to almost life size mannequins but this was of no consequence as Meishar’s continuous narration and many voices gave life to a wide range of characters. The only voices which are not actually Meishar’s are those of Nazi officers, were animated images on screen conversed directly with her. This was clearly a deliberate and clever move to distance both characters and performers from anyone involved with the Nazi regime and was very effective. It is also fitting that towards the end of the show, there is some footage on the back screen of Irene herself speaking about some aspects of time during the war

Stav Meishar has to date spent seven years researching the lives of German-Jewish circus families during the Nazi period and this meticulous background study combined with attention to detail in acting many different characters as well as the central role of Irene has produced a very engaging and moving production. The personal story of Irene of course stands on its own merits but there is a wider educational aspect of The Escape Act which makes the play both important as a telling of history and highly relevant for today, with ethnic and racial tensions still very much with us and the Jewish community continuing to be an object of attack.

You will not see many shows like this where the artist is so personally linked to the characters and story, nor where the performance is so versatile; a fine piece of work.

Reviewer - John Waterhouse
on - 29/10/19

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Sitcom Stories #2 - The Peer Hat, Manchester.

“Sitcom Stories Two” is a collection of short plays that take classic sitcoms from history, such as Porridge, Dad’s Army and George And Mildred, but tell a new story using those characters that we all know and love. This production of “Sitcom Stories” was presented at the quirky venue that is The Peer Hat in the Northern Quarter in Manchester.

First to the stage was “Blood’s Thicker Than Porridge” as we were reacquainted with the characters from the original sitcom Porridge. Norman Stanley Fletcher (Howard Whittock) and Lenny Godber (Sean Mason) took to the stage and Godber broke some news to Fletcher that there had been another murder at Slade prison – the forth in the last month. Fletch and Godber talked of attempting to work out the identity of the murderer. The story was interesting, with a twist at the end but what stood out for me from this short play was just how good Whittock was as Fletcher. He captured the tone of voice and in particular the mannerisms just perfectly. It makes me think that there could easily be a Porridge full length play with perhaps new material – Whittock would be a great choice for the lead role.

Next in line was “Five Years” in which Alan Bennett (Pete Gibson) talks of his conversation with his friend Thora about the end of world being due in five years’ time. David Bowie and his album Ziggy Stardust had a very similar prediction, giving this short play the most bizarre link between Bennett and Bowie. Pete Gibson as Alan Bennett was simply brilliant, I’ve seen many impersonations of Bennett but this is by far the best I have seen. There is a tendency to over exaggerate his mannerisms and quirks but Gibson performed this superbly. The story didn’t quite hit the spot for me but I would love to see more of Gibson as Bennett.

Third in line should have been “Rag And Brains” but in a change to the schedule we actually got “The Generation Game” which was scheduled to be later in the evening. “Rag And Brains” was no longer in the schedule and was replaced later by “The King Of Crumpsall”. However, “The Generation Game” was a bizarre situation where Mildred (Carly Tarrett), and wife of George from the sitcom of the same name, being paired up on stage with Larry Grayson (Matt Melbourne). The world outside of the television studio had ended but Mildred and Larry were carrying on with the gameshow regardless. This was a very dark story that started with some typical gameshow banter but ended with two very frightened characters as the realisation of their situation unfolded – entertaining but quite disturbing which I guess is what the intention was.

Next on the agenda was “The King Of Crumpsall” as we were treated to an appearance from Gunner Lofty Sugden (Pete Gibson) from the classic sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Lofty was so called because of his lack of height, and explained during the performance that back in the 1970s it was common place for a fat person to be called Slim, and short people to be called Lofty. The reference to Crumpsall was the fact that the original actor who played Sugden was Don Estelle who was from Crumpsall in Manchester. Gibson was again superb in the role, capturing all of the right parts of Sugden’s character.

The final story to be told on this evening was “Mainwaring In The High Castle” which was a throwback to the brilliant Dad’s Army. The play took us to an alternative dimension where the Nazi’s had won the war and occupied Britain. Captain Mainwaring (Steve Cain) had been captured and was in a cell, Wilson (Ian Wilkie) had defected to join up with the new Nazi rule and Corporal Jones (Pete Gibson) had given himself up in order to plot the escape of Mainwaring. Jones had placed some plastic explosives about his person and was waiting for nature to take its course. This led to some hilarious slapstick comedy that ended the night on a high – best show of the evening.

All in all this was a fun set of short plays – the overall running time was just over an hour for the collection and as a result the night ran along at quite a pace. I would like to see a couple of them played out with longer versions but overall this was a very entertaining set of plays.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 27/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Hedda Gabler - The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.

Chelsea Walker’s production of Brian Friel’s adaptation of Ibsen’s original play might be described as ‘high concept’: from the moment the lights came up on stage, we were not in a drawing-room but a ‘non-space’, Hedda herself isolated downstage while the other characters, seated on a raised platform at the back, surveyed her with impassive detachment. This stasis did not last long, though when Aunt Juliana and Bertha the maid began their opening dialogue from their seated positions at the back, I did begin to wonder how far this concept might carry....

I needn’t have worried. Although hardly a ‘straight telling’ of the text, Walker’s production has many old-fashioned virtues - clarity, dramatic verisimilitude and, perhaps most of all, stage pictures that are congruent, rather than at odds, with the spoken dialogue. All this was in evidence during the splendidly physical opening scenes with George being welcomed home by his smothering aunt: Hedda’s entrance into this cosy domestic set-up was, for once, the dramatic ‘new paragraph’ it needs to be. The stage groupings reflected the new bride’s instinctive paranoia, from which she has to break out, good manners be damned. It was also an inspired idea to turn Bertha (Caroline Berry) into a kind of silent chorus figure - there was one striking moment when she materialised out of nowhere to quickly dust up the shards of a wine-glass Hedda had broken in a moment of existential angst - rather than the walk-on she usually is.

As Hedda, Heledd Gwynn cut an almost androgynous figure - rail-slim, barefooted, and with the kind of severe cropped haircut that the General, disappointed in not having a son, might have forced on her. This masculine effect was slightly mitigated by a pair of Beatrix Campbell earrings and a (very feminine) blue tulle dress. Thus, the point that other performances have struggled to make - that Hedda is a ‘male temperament’ trapped in a woman’s body - was made by judicious use of costume/make-up. Yet Gwynn’s often balletic and always highly physical performance carried many surprises - not least the degree of sympathy she evoked for a character whom many find hard to like. It helped that she was matched with Marc Antolin as her scholar husband - played, for a change, not as a milksap dunderhead but as a thrusting and ambitious career academic who hasn’t entirely severed the apron strings attaching him to Aunt Juliana. Fast-paced and discretely funny, Antolin offered a convincing portrayal of a man who will have a life after the death of the wife whom he (at one point literally) puts on a pedestal.

The evening’s most striking performance came from Nia Roberts, in the minor (in stage time) role of Aunt Juliana - not the sweet old lady many expect but a vigorous figure in early middle-age whose happy lot in life is to live through her nephew. Roberts’ contrarian view of the character - who, in this reading, clearly dislikes Hedda but will put up with her because she ‘carries the future’ - blasted away the barnacles of cliche that have settled on it over the decades. A triumphant re-interpretation!

Friel’s adaptation contains rather more Friel than it does Ibsen: at the other extreme from Patrick Marber’s recent rival version, it is extremely wordy (in a way plays tend not to be these days) and contains several speeches which have no parallel in the source play. At their best, these develop and illuminate Ibsen’s themes; at their worst, they are merely verbose and it’s to the cast’s credit that they coped with Friel’s occasional longeurs as adeptly as they did the more focused moments.

Reviewer - Richard Ely
on - 28/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: The Entertainer - The Opera House, Manchester.

I had never seen the stage play of The Entertainer by John Osborne (the original 'Angry Young Man!'), only the wonderfully bleak film starring Laurence Olivier (who, incidently was the man who asked Osborne to write the play in the first place as a vehicle for himself); so I was very much looking forward to this.

An unusually small audience this Monday evening (not even at one third capacity) was kept waiting half an hour before the start of the play due to some "technical fault", and as the play progressed the numbers dwindled further. A few leaving during the first act, and many more not returning after the interval. Was this just due to the fact that the play was running 30 minutes behind schedule, or was something much more fundemental happening that simply wasn't making this version of the play as watchable as it ought to be...

The play was written in the midst of the Suez Crisis, and pitches political feelings of the time alongside the change in social values as a middle-aged variety entertainer carries on regurgitating his out-dated humour to ever-dwindling audiences. It is a wonderfully prescient socio-political allegory. This "up-dated" version [some dialogue changed to accommodate the new time-frame, as well as the omission of at least one character] sees Archie Rice, the play's 'Entertainer' in the early 1980s, and instead of Suez we have The Falklands, and instead of the 'End Of Pier' style variety act we are shown a comedian unable to compete with the new left-wing  "alternative comedy" which is becoming more and more popular at this time. The only reason I can see for moving the action forward some 30 years and not bringing it up to the present day, (which would make more sense and be more relatable to our modern audiences as our country is going through a huge political and social upheaval currently), is Shane Richie. Richie plays the protagonist Archie Rice, and brings his many years of club and variety entertaining as well as his TV experience to bear in this performance, trying to put his own 'stamp' on the role, shaking off the shackles from the likes of Olivier and Branagh et al. Another decade, required a different Archie Rice! A canny move, and if anyone was going to fill Archie Rice's 1980s incarnation, then who better than Richie?! It was a brave and noteworthy attempt, but for me though, Richie was too self-aware and too angry right from the start leaving his character nowhere to go, and so we were given two hours of self-absorbed, self-indulgent rants and nastiness. The character, as indeed the whole play, was not nuanced enough to bring about enough pity or sympathy from the audience, which seems to be for me at least, a fundamental flaw in the directing / acting of this character.

It also didn't make for a very balanced performanced. It felt very much like 'An Evening With Archie Rice (And Friends)' at times. Despite the valiant attempts at asserting herself, Diana Vickers as daughter Jean, was insignificant, as was Alice Osmanka (understudy and looking too young for the role) as long-suffering and alcoholic wife Phoebe, who sadly droned on ineffectively becoming more and more drunk as the play progressed, seen to be very much an insignificant figure in this adaptation. The always impressive Pip Donaghy as the once great comedy star-turn father Billy Rice, was reduced to doing Alf Garnett impersonations in the first act, but was despite this, the most real, centred, and believable person on the stage. The picture of a fractious family going through socio-political change was there, but it was a seaside comedy cartoon postcard version with little sincerity or depth. Even when tragedy struck, and the unseen son / brother, a 'hero' and casualty of The Falklands Conflict was mourned, the pathos was all too minimal and shallow.

The interior of the Rice's living room was excellently appointed, and looked very authentic but very out-dated, seemingly stuck in the 1970s, perhaps deliberately,  and the war songs used in the play, perfect for the play's original dates, jarred when pitched against the synth sounds of 1980's pop bands during the very long-winded scene changes and the projecting of newspaper headlines. Director Sean O'Connor simply overgilding the lily with these ideas, and lengthening the play unnecessarily.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 28/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: On Your Feet - The Palace Theatre, Manchester

As an '80’s child, my teenage years had a formative background soundtrack of the music of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, and I was very excited to revisit the popular, lively and memorable music of the Miami Sound Machine. A packed, opening night audience at the Palace Theatre sat in excited anticipation. And they weren’t disappointed

Act 1 sprang into life like a fabulous firework display with a stunning Cuban band on stage decorated by lithe Cuban dancers setting the time, the place. The sound quality was superb. Nothing beats live music and the thrill of the physical proximity or a big sound and lots of live players (a 7 piece band led by MD Danny Belton) filled the auditorium with the thrilling energy and sound of Cuban music with an authentic recreation of the Estefan sound. The rhythm was gonna get us whether we liked it or not, from the outset.

The story has been written around the famous songs of MSM which is a difficult task to fit a coherent and chronological narrative around existing music and make it work, believably .For the most part Alexander Dinelaris’ book works extremely well charting the meeting and backgrounds to the characters for most of Act One up until the band’s breakthrough into mainstream crossover of American music. The holes for me were that the plot was probably not substantial enough to hang a whole show on, not enough sub plots. The biggest themes were Gloria’s troubled relationship with her mother who was opposed to her relationship with Estefan and feeling that her daughter was too good for him. The spectacular choreography by Olivier Award-winning Sergio Trujillo was a joy and a thrilling highlight of the evening with a massively talented, energetic and passionate set of dancers; he must have had a dream come true with talent in such huge abundance. The show’s costumes were sparkly and did not disappoint. Gloria’s two piece red ensemble, a plethora of female costumes for every dance number. Opening night or not, the scene changes and interchangeable sliding sets were tight and seamlessly executed along with a stellar lighting plot.

The story is of a talented, teenage singer and songwriter who is encouraged by her loving grandmother to pursue her talents despite a domineering mother who is reluctant to allow her daughter to stray from the family as she needs her to help run the home, share the care of her Multiple Sclerosis-suffering father and her younger sister. Emilio Estefan and his emerging band The Latino Boys invite Gloria to join their group, the music binds them together in love and talent and most people know that they are one of pop’s most enduring marriages and successful couplings in both love and music. Gloria’s grandma was a star turn as Consuela played by Karen Mann with excellent comedy who had the whole audience in the palm of her hand.

Act two documented the continuing rise to mega stardom and pop success of the uncrowned king and queen of Miami as their music becomes international and stratospheric overcoming the cultural barriers of language and style to have impact and success in a previously unheard genre outside of the Latino countries. But, they did it, as pop culture history tells us. At the height of their fame, in 1990, the band’s tour bus had a major crash and Gloria was left having spinal surgery which could have left her paralysed. Her invitation to sing at the American Music Awards marked the start of her return to the public arena.

Leading lady, Philippa Stefani shone like a diamond with her superstar presence. She was strikingly similar to Gloria Estefan in stature and had incredible vocals, not an impersonation of Gloria but completely in the style of. I was moved to tears when she sang ‘Anything For You’. She had incredible control and versatility in her musicality but her stage presence from young, unconfident Gloria to older, superstar was impressive. Her interplay with the more dominant Emilio (George Ioannides) was beautiful. They had a genuine chemistry. Estefan is older than Gloria and his confidence, swagger and control of the band’s vision was really well played. His singing voice was sublime and displayed the sincerity of his love and affection. Gloria is his muse and they were a team from the off.

Gloria’s mother played by Portuguese actress Madalena Alberto, a seasoned West End star, delivered a sharp and thorny mother whose character progressed from selfish through to selfless as she reconnected and reconciled with her daughter in Act 2. A stand out performance with a powerhouse vocal which thrilled and had an enigmatic stage presence. You couldn’t take your eyes off her.

This was such a joy on a cold, Monday evening in late autumn to be taken to a warm, happy place with excellent singing and dancing and playing. A lovely turn to take the Congo into the stalls aisles and invite the audience at the end of Act 1. The ensemble absolutely worked themselves to the bone in this fast paced, high energy singing and dancing concert of Miami Sound Machine songs. Just amazing to watch as a theatrical spectacle at its best.

A jaw-droppingly impressive finale showcasing all featured principles singing solos from favourites such as’ Dr Beat’ and ‘1,2,3’ and ‘Reach’ was well received and had everyone ‘ Get On Your Feet!’ to join in, singing and dancing with the Latino vibes . The show’s non-stop, high octane and infectious energy must have made even the sourest of audience members want to tap their toes. It certainly made me want to get to the nearest salsa class because the rhythm really got me!

Reviewer - Kathryn Gorton 
on - 28/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert - The Curve Theatre, Leicester.

It is a quarter of a century since “The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert” was unleashed onto cinema screens; back then bringing drag to a mainstream audience was far more cutting-edge and risky than it is now. The stage musical followed in 2006, the West End production starring Jason Donovan who has returned to the show as Producer for its current run.

Two Sydney drag queens, Tick / Mitzi (Joe McFadden) and Adam / Felicia (Nick Hayes) are joined by transgender woman Bernadette (Miles Western) as they undertake a road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs where Tick has agreed to put on a four-week run at the Casino owned by his wife Marion (Miranda Wilford). Tick’s son Benji, aged six or so, doesn’t know his father and Tick worries constantly about what the boy will think of him when they do meet.

Before that can happen though, there is the small matter of crossing thousands of kilometres of Outback in a clapped-out third-hand Hino school bus named Priscilla - credit to set designers Charles Cusick-Smith and Phil R. Daniels here, the “modular” design of this contraption works brilliantly. The long stretches of open road reveal the tensions between them with Adam and Bernadette (whose birth name, we learn, was Ralph) sharing some particularly catty exchanges. Thus, Adam: “Is it true you keep Little Ralph in a jar of formaldehyde and carry him with you in your bag?” Bernadette: “I wish I did, I’d shove him down your throat to shut you up!”.

Following a game of “Truth or Dare” the group end up in a bar in Brokenhill. Whilst they manage to defuse the open hostility towards them, they return to find Priscilla daubed in homophobic graffiti, which they quickly overpaint in glittery pink.

When Priscilla breaks down they are fortunate to meet mechanic Bob (Daniel Fletcher) who joins them for the rest of the trip but not before Bob’s soon-to-be-ex-wife Cynthia (Jacqui Sanchez) has upstaged them with a trick involving ping-pong balls… buy your own ticket if you want to learn more!

After another, more serious, bout of hate crime is directed toward the group in the redneck town of Coober Pedy, they arrive in Alice Springs just in time for their first performance.

In the mind of young Benji (Hayden Polanco), Tick is a showbiz sensation whom he has been longing to meet all his life. When they do meet, he accepts his father, lifestyle, friends and all, completely and without reservation. Even more importantly perhaps, the immensely likeable Tick is finally able to accept himself in all his glorious complexity: a gay man, a drag queen and a father. It’s happy endings all round, in fact, and with over 1,000 people on their feet clapping along to the final number the atmosphere was truly joyful.

Throughout the two hours of fast-paced entertainment the Three Divas (Aiesha Pease, Claudia Kariuki and Rosie Glossop) are belting out '80's favourites such as “I Will Survive” and “It’s Raining Men” whilst the excellent ensemble dance like their lives depend on it. Behind the scenes there must be an operation of military precision underway to ensure that all the myriad costume changes are carried out to split-second timings. The whole thing is a masterpiece, although if I may be permitted one gripe it is that setting the finale atop “Ayers Rock” as Uluru used to be known seems culturally insensitive now the site has been returned to the Anangu who revere it as sacred.

The first working day after the clocks go back is often considered one of the most miserable days of the year. “Priscilla”, with its infectious joie-de-vivre, was the perfect antidote!

Reviewer - Ian Simpson
on - 28/10/19

Monday, 28 October 2019

COMEDY REVIEW: Austentatious - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Performed by an Improv company of the same name, this strong cast brought us ‘Austentatious’. We all know of  ‘Pride And Prejudice’ but this company of actors are travelling all around the country, uncovering lost masterpieces written by Jane Austen. Her obscure works have included: ‘Sixth Sense & Sensibility’, ‘Double 0 Darcy’ and ‘Mansfield Shark’.

No two shows are the same as entire plays are improvised from start to finish, based on a book title suggested by the audience. The whole performance was directed by an academic whose specialist subject was Jane Austen’s long lost novels. It was hard to believe some of the fascinating facts he told us – no really, it was hard to believe what he said. It was performed in period costume with piano music against a Georgian style living room with an excessively flowery aesthetic.

Tonight’s one-off performance, Ladies and Gentleman, was: ‘Corn Laws: The Thatching Menace’.

Sitting down in the stalls of the Quays Theatre, I could hear some mellifluent background piano music. I presumed it was playing on a backing track. A quick turn to my right and the music was actually being played live onstage by a subtly eccentric performer. It was a funny surprise and set the tone for just how humorous the rest of the show was going to be. Even if the actors didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. Whatever was about to happen though, the ensemble sure had each other’s backs.

The theatre company channelled Mischief Theatre’s creativity and metatheatricality, in the sense that even when mistakes were made in the improvisation that was where the fundamental comedy lay. Yes, they were laudable regarding their improvisation abilities, coming up with ideas quickly which cleverly related to the unique world of the play, but when the play went wrong it was so hilarious. Like laughing at your best friend, it was amusing to see them struggle momentarily. I thought, where was this going next? How in the world were they going to make sense of that situation? In what way were they going to finish the story?

A handful of anachronisms, a Scottish Gentleman with an agenda obsessed with Iru Bru, fornicating horses, a twisted magical fire-starter, an intelligent detective disguised as a dimwit, and a generous supply of ribbons all featured in tonight’s story. Despite its randomness, the plotline just about came to an end. Bizarre and delightful; totally unpredictable and side-splitting.

One minor criticism would be I don’t think they involved the audience enough. Why stop at book titles? What if certain lines or ideas had to be implemented into scenes? It could have included more specific references to other Jane Austin novels, I feel.

All things considered, it didn’t matter too much. The ‘Improv-agility’ on display was impressive, reflective of their hard work and regular practice as an ensemble. Jane Austen wrote in ‘Pride And Prejudice’: “A lady's imagination is very rapid”. The same can be said for the Austentatious Improv Group.

‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ meets ‘Jane Austen’ in ‘Austentatious’, a unique experience for bookworm fans of her novels or anyone looking for a night of laughter and entertainment. Every performance is different so go and see it again. Austoundingly funny.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 27/10/19

NEWS: Final chance in the North West to catch Streisand Tribute show!


Singer and comedienne Liza Pulman to complete
18-month tour with dates in Ambleside and Blackpool

Singer and comedienne Liza Pulman is about to embark on the final leg of her latest tour celebrating the life and music of one of the biggest names in showbusiness, Barbra Streisand – which includes two dates in the North West this November.

The final five tour dates for Liza Pulman Sings Streisand have been announced and features dates in Ambleside and Blackpool next month. The tour will also visit venues in Winchester, Poole and Radlett.

Liza will be joined by her six-piece band to celebrate her idol through her hugely successful and critically acclaimed five-star show.

Liza Pulman Sings Streisand will perform at Zeffirellis in Ambleside on Friday 8 November 2019 as part of the Inward Eye Film Festival, before heading to the Grand Theatre in Blackpool on Saturday 9 November 2019.

The show features the legendary songbook of Barbra Streisand and includes memorable hits The Way We Were; Don’t Rain On My Parade; Evergreen; You Don’t Bring Me Flowers; New York State Of Mind; Second Hand Rose; The Way He Makes Me Feel; and People.

Liza Pulman commented: “I formed my amazing six-piece band a few years ago and we toured our first show, Songs Of Hollywood. The programme included Evergreen from the film A Star Is Born, and so many people told me I sounded like Barbra Streisand. I was so flattered – and it was something I wanted to explore further and celebrate.

“Barbra Streisand has been such a huge influence on my singing and on my approach to music. It’s been an incredible 18 months touring Liza Pulman Sings Streisand, a real honour and privilege bringing this legendary performer’s wonderful songbook to the stage once again. It’s been a very special experience and one I will always treasure.”

After completing the tour, Liza Pulman will return to comedy and head back to the stage as one third of satirical trio, Fascinating Aida. Liza is already busy writing material with her Fascinating Aida co-stars Dillie Keane and Adele Anderson. Their new show launches in December and runs for four weeks at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at London’s Southbank Centre, before the show heads on tour in Spring 2020.

Liza’s musical theatre credits include Adrian Noble’s award-winning production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium with Michael Ball in 2002, and the UK tour of Doctor Dolittle with Philip Schofield. In 2004, Liza joined the internationally renowned comedy trio Fascinating Aida – and 15 years later she remains one third of the act.

Fascinating Aida enjoyed a sell-out week-long run at the Edinburgh Festival 2016 for which they wrote the post Brexit Youtube hit, We’re So Sorry Scotland. In December 2017, the trio regrouped for nine sell-out performances at the famous Spiegeltent in London’s Leicester Square with a programme featuring their infamous Christmas Song.

Liza comes from a talented, traditional showbusiness family. Her father was screenwriter Jack Pulman, known for writing I Claudius and War and Peace. While her mother is actress Barbara Young, who has appeared in Last Of The Summer Wine, Coronation Street, and began in Theatre Workshop.

The remaining dates in the Liza Pulman Sings Streisand tour also include the Theatre Royal in Winchester on Sunday 3 November; Lighthouse in Poole on Thursday 7 November; and the Radlett Centre in Hertfordshire on Wednesday 13 November.

Facebook:       /lizapulmanofficial
Twitter:           @liza_pulman


Friday 8 November 2019 at 8.30pm
Compston Road, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 9AD
Box Office:      015394 33845

Saturday 9 November 2019 at 7.30pm
33 Church Street, Blackpool, FY1 1HT
Box Office:      01253 290190